Until last March, Gary and I picked up trash during our daily walks. In 2018 and 2019 we gathered about a ton of garbage, mostly tiny pieces or broken plastic and bottle caps, but also entire bottles, fishing tackle, toothbrushes, take-out containers, candy wrappers, toys, commercial and sport fishing gear, lengths of plastic rope a few inches or many yards long, and as you might guess from the photo below, polystyrene foam. We both seem to collect.
When we entered the pandemic, Gary and I decided we would stop picking up trash. Ironically, Gary still picks up the worst stuff, such as insulin needles and fluorescent tubes as safety concerns. I still pick up Bic lighters because I’d found a couple of dozen in the previous year, and each one was a different color. Now I have a line of half a dozen sharing a bench with colored stones. I think they are funny.
But this week, two huge chunks of foam washed upshore and Gary said, “I can pick it up now or wait until it breaks up into a million pieces.” He stabbed a stick into the bigger solid piece and ran a yard of found rope through the doughnut. That pair fills our garbage can. (We visit recycling more often than we pick up mail, but local systems don’t take polystyrene foam. Think about that the next time someone tries to hand you one of those nasty cups.) Some habits are hard to break. Blue plastic bottle caps are particularly hard for me to leave.
These days we walk north for about an hour and home again, most days. We walk on the sand one way, and generally walk up and down on the rocks the other. That’s if we’re lucky and there is any bare sand at all. We collect agates and sea glass and the rare limpet—rare because this does not seem to be the winter for shells. Most days I bring home no shells at all, even when my pockets are heavy with flat-smoothes and raw agates. Sometimes we find bits of pumice. I look for my “daily rust” and a favorite color of plastic fishing cord. It’s turquoise and orange, generally a pairs of shorts six-inches lengths knotted. I finally figured out why when I picked up a white (nylon bait?) box tied off with that exact cord. I think they tie the boxes up someplace then just cut them loose when they’re empty and tie them back with a new length of cord. I can understand how untying that knot would be nearly impossible at sea. Sometimes my fingertips go numb because I want my hands bare in order to gather stones. Sometimes Gary will stand over a find and point with his gloved hand.
Since it’s been raining pretty much nonstop for the past two months, we get wet and cold most days. Our raincoats protect our upper bodies and Gary wears gloves and sensible nearly-waterproof shoes. We both have hats and hoods. The real problem is wind, of course, those gale force winds. When we’ve been out for a couple of hours, we’re glad to get home. By then his jeans and my running tights are soaked, but there’s usually coffee left over and a fire in the stove. (We’re thinking about those people in Texas without heat. Our wood stove was our only heat for about half the forty-odd years we’ve lived here. When power was out for five days a few years back, I made coffee and soup and pancakes on that stove.)
Despite my stash of thirty woven scarves/shawls and despite deliberately working slowly, I completed weaving a new 6.5 yard warp the other day—two lengths woven to 94″ for a seamed blanket. When I wash the woven pieces, they generally lose 10% of their length and about 5% of width. I haven’t measured, but I’m not sure these two lost length. My plan is for a blanket of about 85-90″ square. Two lengths give me just 46″ in width, so I’m not half done. Yesterday, I wound enough skeins off for another complementary and darker warp for two more lengths (92″). The colors are what I have chosen from my stash to please and entertain myself. (My stash is not noticeably depleted yet. I need to do a brown warp soon, and maybe use up some alpaca I’ve had for thirty years. I also have a few skeins of space-dyed soft wool in muted browns and blues and copper that would never work for a warp. I bought it decades ago for a sweater; it could be weft, or, you know, a sweater?)
Three lengths pulled from my stash of finished weaving will make a green and purple throw about 69″ x 73″. But that can wait. Seaming lengths together is an onerous task and requires that I completely clear my work area, something I’m not ready to do. My space is piled with batik fabrics for another quilt and yarn and books, a swift and ball-winder, bowls of thread, tools and sketches. It is a muddle and a mess and will require an entire morning to tidy away.
A Progressive insurance commercial made me laugh and laugh. An instructor helps teach people how to not turn into their parents. “You buy a house and begin turning into your parents.” It’s true I am old enough to be the parent my children are turning into, but the cushions on the sofa was exactly like my mother. The instructor pointed out there was no room to sit and he clears all the decorative pillows off a middle-aged woman’s couch. I did that exact thing many times. Mom would complain almost daily that I didn’t sit down and periodically I would empty pillows off her sofa and carry them to her attic. I swear that within a week or two she’d ordered enough scatter pillows to fill the sofa again. After she moved to assisted living and sold her house, Gary and I cleared her house at a frantic pace because had to be done quickly once the house sold. There was an entire corner of the attic stacked high with dozens of scatter cushions. Mom didn’t want any of them. I should have kept one but they were among the first things I sent off to charity.
My mother liked accumulating things. Maybe it was a result of the Depression and deprivation. She collected stuff—dolls, glassware, china, art prints, books, reproduction netsuke. She was inclined to move from one project to another without quite becoming expert at anything. Tile mosaic, enameling, upholstery, refinishing furniture, needlepoint. I am inclined to do the same thing, there’s no denying that. A local gallery showed ceramics and when I saw their construction, I immediately thought: I was doing that in high school a million years ago.
In an effort to move on, I gave my stained glass supplies to a friend of Gary’s. But I still have a rusty toolbox and supplies from when I was a Metal Art student. I completed that degree in 1976, and after a frightening episode with my enameling kiln and my oldest son (then a toddler), I put it all away and moved over to textiles as a safer craft. The enameling kiln went to a former student; I don’t know if she’s used it.
I piece and weave. A great grandmother I never knew was a quilter. It was my step-grandmother who was the great weaver. Men and women in my family made things. My dad always had greater plans than he managed to complete, but he hiked over the Olympic range many times. He told stories even if he never wrote them down. He and Genevieve and my mother are people I miss. My students too. A friend assumed I would leave teaching with joy. It didn’t work that way for me. Perhaps that fabled moving on is more about coming full circle. Perhaps I should clean the planishing hammer and the hardened steel repoussé tools I made all those years ago, check my tiny stash of gold wire, the last cabochon stones I never set. Maybe it’s not too late to change mediums again and rediscover the goldsmith I used to be.
Or maybe, first, I should just keep weaving till my yarn stash is halved.